NATO official calls out Belgium for failing to meet own targets

Admiral Rob Bauer, chair of NATO's Military Committee, on Tuesday called Belgium to account for failing to meet its own defence spending targets. "It is not a theoretical idea that Russia could attack," he warned.

"Not preparing for war means increasing the likelihood of war," the Dutch admiral told the Belgian parliament's defence committee during a hearing. His parliamentary visit followed talks with the prime minister and the ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs.

Belgium spent 1.1 per cent of GDP on defence in 2023, placing it near the bottom of the NATO rankings. Only Luxembourg ranks lower, with defence spending of 0.7 per cent of GDP.

The Belgian government has pledged to meet NATO's 2 per cent spending target by 2035. Right-wing parties are strongly pressuring the government to speed up the pace at a time when the country's budgetary situation is bleak.

Russian threat

"In Belgium, as in other countries, people think that this Russian threat is far away," Bauer said. I would like to remind them that if Russia wants to attack a NATO member, we will all be at war, including Belgium."

"It is not a theoretical idea that Russia could attack," he said. "The Russians have often lied: they said they would not attack Ukraine and they did. They said they wouldn't attack Georgia in 2008, and they did. They said they would not annex Crimea, and they did," said Bauer.

Attacks could take an armed form and be aimed at targets in Belgium, Bauer said. The country is home to important sites such as the port of Antwerp, NATO headquarters, European institutions and companies such as Swift, which handles banking transactions for the whole world.

Current measures are not enough

Bauer praised the current government's plan to increase the capacity of the Belgian defence forces and acknowledged the efforts made in the naval and air domains, but said the measures were not enough.

"You have ordered 34 F-35s. That's not enough: NATO is asking for 45," he said, noting that the creation of a second motorised brigade had been postponed until 2040.

"These capacities are good news in themselves, but they are taking a long time and are so reduced that it will be impossible to hold out for long in the event of a crisis," Bauer said.


Admiral Rob Bauer, chair of NATO's Military Committee © PHOTO LISE ÅSERUD / NTB / AFP

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